Mainstream slumming on the sci fi side of the street?
April 22, 2007 12:02 PM   Subscribe

I just found out that the dystopian/futuristic movie Children of Men is based on a novel by P.D. James. It made me think of the excellent short story The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster. It made me wonder: are other examples of mainstream authors experimenting with speculative fiction?

I'm particularly interested in the case where the author is primarily known for mainstream, literature, or a different genre fiction - I thought of the example of Margaret Atwood (who's entry in Wikipedia, incidentally, has singlehandedly destroyed what marginal faith I had in that "reference") but she's really crossed that line several times in more than one fashion.
posted by nanojath to Media & Arts (36 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Wikipedia references - Children of Men (spoilers), The Machine Stops (spoilers), Margaret Atwood (holy malicious errors, Batman!)
posted by nanojath at 12:04 PM on April 22, 2007

Cormac McCarthy's new book, The Road, just won the pulitzer, is on oprah's book club, and just happens to be about a post-apocalyptic road trip.
posted by thecjm at 12:15 PM on April 22, 2007

Doris Lessing got into science fiction after an extremely successful career as an author of non-sci-fi novels and essays.
posted by alms at 12:15 PM on April 22, 2007

The gorgeous and haunting 'Never Let Me Go' was written by Kazuo Ishiguro, author of well received traditional literature such as 'The Remains of the Day' and 'An Artist of the Floating World'.
posted by Jezztek at 12:20 PM on April 22, 2007

Would Shakespeare fit your criteria? Don't know which of his works could be classified as "experiments," though.
posted by YamwotIam at 12:21 PM on April 22, 2007

(to be more specific: I was thinking of Macbeth as Shakespeare's foray into speculative fiction, but I don't know to what extent it represents a departure)
posted by YamwotIam at 12:24 PM on April 22, 2007

Doris Lessing has been writing speculative fiction alongside her more mainstream social/political realism since the late 1960s. Notable examples are her Canopus in Argos series in which she imagines Earth and other planets of the galaxy as the spiritual battlegrounds for enlightened and malevolent alien empires seeking to, respectively, enlighten/evolve and degrade the lifeforms there; and the final book of her Children of Violence bildunsroman, which ends after an apocalyptic event has wiped out most of the life on earth.
posted by Ladysin at 12:30 PM on April 22, 2007

Michael Chabon wrote Summerland, which is double the genre fun, being a fantasy novel for children.

Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham (best known for The Hours) has a sci-fi section.

I don't know if this counts, but Denise Mina, who is known for her feminist mystery novels, has also written for the comic book series Hellblazer
posted by craichead at 12:31 PM on April 22, 2007

I know a lot of Paul Auster's novels are, uh, 'out there' (or at least contain plot devices that depend on a small suspension of disbelief), but his first (full) novel In the Country of the Last Things is way, way, way 'out there'. I'd classify it as 'speculative fiction', without a doubt.
posted by hydatius at 12:31 PM on April 22, 2007

The "Professor Challenger" stories by Conan Doyle.

Arguably Shakespeare's "The Tempest" is speculative fiction.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:32 PM on April 22, 2007

The absolutely dreadful O-Zone by Paul Theroux (and I write as a big Theroux fan) fits the bill.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 12:50 PM on April 22, 2007

Jeff Duntemann after a career of excellent technical books recently published an excellent science-fiction work - The Cunning Blood.
posted by jkaczor at 12:54 PM on April 22, 2007

Would Jonathan Lethem count (though with him, it's more started out in sci-fi and then moved to "lit.")

Chuck Palahniuk's new book "Rant" is partially science fiction.
posted by drezdn at 1:15 PM on April 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Haruki Murakami has a few things that veer toward this territory (Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World), though he's not that far from it in general.

As for "slumming," I'm reminded of something Vonnegut once said:
"I have been a soreheaded occupant of a file drawer labeled "Science Fiction" ... and I would like out, particularly since so many serious critics regularly mistake the drawer for a urinal."
posted by theoddball at 1:27 PM on April 22, 2007

Kazuo Ishiguro's recent Never Let Me Go comes to mind, as does Bharati Mukherjee's less recent The Holder of the World.

Geoff Ryman is really hard to classify, since his work dwells on the boundary between SF (e.g., Air) and experimental literary fiction (253, Was). Well worth a look. 253 is probably experienced better online than in its print incarnation.
posted by thomas j wise at 1:29 PM on April 22, 2007

Many interesting responses and going in some interesting directions. Thanks everyone so far and I hope more to come.
posted by nanojath at 1:34 PM on April 22, 2007

These are both older examples, but in terms of speculative fiction, rather than strict sci-fi, there may be a case to be made for G.K. Chesterton's The Man who was Thursday: a Nightmare, and Jack London's The Iron Heel. At the very least, both play with the boundaries of genre, and both authors are more well-known for other types of literature.
posted by hydatius at 1:46 PM on April 22, 2007

Anthony Burgess, author of A Clockwork Orange was generally a mainstream writer.
posted by octothorpe at 2:33 PM on April 22, 2007

Iain Banks first gained notoriety as a mainstream author, if you can call The Wasp Factory mainstream. His SF writing is far from the occasional experiment, though.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:24 PM on April 22, 2007

Would you count 1984?
posted by escabeche at 3:50 PM on April 22, 2007

Samuel Delany has written a lot of great speculative fiction. I suggest you start with Trouble on Triton.

You could also check out Milorad Pavic's Dictionary of the Khazars.
posted by fallenposters at 5:57 PM on April 22, 2007

John Updike, Toward the End of Time
posted by occhiblu at 6:05 PM on April 22, 2007

Italo Calvino was generally a writer of (for the time and place, mainstream) magic realist fiction, but also wrote some science fiction, particularly his Qfwfq stories, collected in Cosmicomics and T Zero.
posted by solid-one-love at 6:17 PM on April 22, 2007

Voltaire's fun short story Micromegas is about a giant from Sirius and a smaller giant from Saturn who travel to earth and talk with the teeny humans about philosophy and religion. Dostoevsky's fun short story The Dream of a Ridiculous Man is about a depressed man who dreams he kills himself and is pulled from the grave by a shadowy alien who takes him on a trip through outer space to another planet where everyone lives in perfect bliss. Chekhov's story The Black Monk is about an apparition of a monk who appears to the main character as a whirling black column.
posted by mediareport at 6:47 PM on April 22, 2007

Lawrence Durrell's Tunc and Nunquam (also called the Revolt of Aphrodite) is SF but decidedly in a mainstream kind of way.

Kingsley Amis- The Green Man
posted by dhruva at 8:39 PM on April 22, 2007

Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" fits the bill, doesn't it? Time travel, teleportation, alternate futures, and ghosts?
posted by Asparagirl at 8:41 PM on April 22, 2007

john d. mcdonald, one of my favorite noir novelists, wrote two little-known sci-fi books, "wine of the dreamers" and "ballroom in the sky", not bad, but i prefer his regular fare. i read "children of men" and was disappointed that p.d. james made no effort to explain why women had stopped getting pregnant, or why, finally, one did. commander dalgliesh, come back here and get her on the right track again!
posted by bruce at 9:00 PM on April 22, 2007

john d. mcdonald, one of my favorite noir novelists, wrote two little-known sci-fi books, "wine of the dreamers" and "ballroom in the sky" Don't forget McDonald's The Girl, The Gold Watch & Everything.
posted by Savannah at 9:59 PM on April 22, 2007

Margaret Atwood's "Oryx and Crake" is sci-fi, as is David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas" (well, in the latter, past, present, and future, but that's all I'm sayin') Both are great books. I think Atwood has done another quasi-sci-fi book, but I can't think of it now.
posted by zardoz at 5:55 AM on April 23, 2007

In Graham Greene's complete collected stories, there's "A Discovery in the Woods," about children in a post-apocalyptic world looking for blueberries and discovering the wreckage of an "ancient" cruise liner. And in "Under the Garden", a dying old man re-enters a fantasy world he created as a child. Both brilliant.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 9:07 AM on April 23, 2007

Maybe not SF, but it might count:
Fatherland by Robert Harris

Also, FWIW, I loved Children of Men so much that I watched the movie about 5 times and then ordered the novel. It's probably the first time that I enjoyed "the movie" more than "the book" it was based on. Alfonso CuarĂ³n et al. are saints for what they did with that awful book.
posted by redteam at 3:45 PM on April 23, 2007

Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is sci-fi/dystopian.

Nora Roberts writes under the name J. D. Robb for the death series, and it's set in the furture too.
posted by sarahkeebs at 7:06 AM on April 24, 2007

Again, thanks for lots of interesting responses. A bunch of things to check out (and a few to avoid apparently)...
posted by nanojath at 9:14 PM on April 24, 2007

The thing that amuses me about mainstream writers and speculative fiction is when they get all excited about some old bone the nerdpride has already chewed all the marrow out of.

"Check it out, guys! WHAT IF COMPUTERS GOT SMART BUT HATED US? Or, hey... what if we blew up all the cities but some people were left over! Or if we could live on the MOON! Oh, man, I'm cool."

Or, you could end up with Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife.

I liked this book. Despite the well-worn idea of time travel, it is excellent.
posted by Sallyfur at 1:26 AM on April 26, 2007

Exactly. Especially Oryx and Crake. tired old plots.
posted by dhruva at 8:27 PM on April 26, 2007

You might want to check out the book "Future Perfect: American Science Fiction of the Nineteenth Century" by H. Bruce Franklin; it looks at speculative fiction from Hawthorne, Melville, Bierce, Twain and others. Abebooks has a bunch of copies for $1 or so.
posted by mediareport at 10:21 AM on April 29, 2007

« Older Why does explorer.ex become a resource hog?   |   Reward me for shopping! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.